Cisco is making a quantum leap with its latest series of WAN (wide-area network) edge routers, which use a powerful new core processor to jump ahead of its current gear in speed and sophistication.

The new Aggregation Services Router 1000 (ASR1000) series can do more than traditional routing. Like Cisco's current routers – including the 7200, 7600 and Catalyst 6500 – it offers extra services such as guaranteed quality of service, multicast, firewall, policy-based routing and deep packet inspection.

But the ASR1000 is designed so those services can be added without disrupting the flow of packets or slowing down performance, said Jonathan Davidson, director of product management for Cisco's Midrange Routing Business Unit.

All these added features can run as fast as traffic can make it through the router, thanks to the Cisco QuantumFlow Processor (QFP), an internally developed 40-core chipset. (Encryption is performed by another processor linked to the QFP.)

The QFP can perform 160 simultaneous processes and runs all these advanced services itself, so there's no need for additional hardware modules, except to add network interfaces. All administrators need to do is buy additional software licences.

Thanks largely to the QFP, a single ASR1000 could give every employee in a company of 60,000 a personal broadcast channel and provide a secure, encrypted connection to every city in the world with a population over 150,000.

And the chipset is programmable, even to the point of receiving firmware upgrades in the field. Analysts expect it to be used in more Cisco products in the future.

Another key to the routers' smooth software upgrades is a new version of its Internetworking Operating System software, IOS XE. It's similar to that running on existing Cisco routers, such as the 7200 series, but it runs on a Linux kernel. So when a new version of the software is installed, the previous version can keep running simultaneously in standby mode.

Financial analyst FactSet is considering the ASR1000 line to replace the 7200 and 7300 Series routers it's now using in POPs (points of presence) around the world. More than 37,000 people around the world depend on FactSet's network for financial data, so having to reboot a router for a software or hardware upgrade is complicated and disruptive, said Jeff Young, FactSet's CTO.

"The nature of global markets is that the windows of time when you can do that are very limited," Young said. FactSet has been testing ASR1000s and likes the nondisruptive upgrade capability, as well as the idea of replacing many older routers with fewer new units that consume less rack space and electricity, he said.

Changing services without disrupting traffic has long been a hallmark of service-provider equipment but is relatively new to enterprise networks, according to IDC analyst Abner Germanow. Cisco rivals such as Juniper Networks have also been exploring this area, he added.

When the Cisco line ships in April, it will be available in three models: the ASR1002, ASR1004 and ASR1006, which will take up two, four and six rack unit shelves, respectively. Prices will start at $35,000 (£17,650).